In the article Kris and I wrote about the development of Mormon healing to 1847, we discussed the rise of healing relics:
Following the biblical precedent of the Apostle Paul (Acts 19:12), members of the Quorum of the Twelve sometimes touched or sent handkerchiefs to people in order to heal them. Joseph Smith Sr. issued the first extant instruction on such healing as part of Lorenzo Snow’s December 1836 patriarchal blessing, where he declared that Lorenzo would have faith “like that of Peter thy shadow shall restore the sick—the diseased shall send to thee their handkerchiefs and aprons and by thy touch their owners shall be healed.” Such activities were quite rare compared to other means of healing; however they illustrate the degree to which the early Mormons sought to embody the power of the biblical apostles and modeled their healing practices on New Testament precedents.
82. Joseph Smith Sr., Patriarchal Blessing to Lorenzo Snow, December 15, 1836, MS 1330 1, vol. 1, in Selected Collections, 1:31. That Lorenzo engaged in the practice of healing via handkerchief is attested to in Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Company, 1884), 264–65.,
The Joseph Smith Papers crew recently expanded the online portion of their content. Whereas the project earlier anticipated publishing 30 volumes, they now talk of publishing 20, with the balance of the material being made available solely on the JSPP website. To kick-start this emphasis, the project has released several minute books (including the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo Minute Book) and documents through the year of 1838 (note that Docs volume 1 still hasn’t even been published yet—as I understand, you can look for it in 2013). This represents a tremendous cache of source materials.
The documents section for the year of 1836 includes the digital facsimiles and typescripts of two “Zion’s blessings.” Ben Park had a nice discussion of these blessings published in the JWHA Journal a while ago  (Ben, is there a decent source for this anywhere online?). Basically, those that participated in what we commonly call Zion’s Camp were promised both a “great endowment and blessing” (D&C 105:12 and 18). The endowment of power from on high was associated with the Kirtland Temple, but the blessing was something different. Apparently members of the First Presidency blessed veterans of the Camp because they were “willing to lay down thy life for thy brethren.” [Ibid.]
In the appendix of his article, Ben included excerpts from several Zion’s blessings, including part of a typescript blessing given to Alvin Winegar, which Ben indicates as being held in the LDS Church History Library. Well, the JSP crew have published the preliminary content of a photocopy of a holograph version held at the CHL, the original being in private possession. First let me say that Winegar’s script is gorgeous. Second, it is clear that Ben only included part of the blessing, the balance held a spectacular nugget. On February 7, 1836, the First Presidency blessed Winegar that, in association with a future ministry, he would have:
power to heal the sick— open the blind eyes— unstop the deaf ears— Cause the dumb Tongue of the dumb to sing for joy— many shall seek to touch thy garments— and others shall send handkerchiefs, and Aprons to thee and be healed by this means.
Okay, remember that bit up at the top were Kris and I said that the earliest extant documentation for healing handkerchiefs/aprons was a blessing by Joseph Smith Sr. in December of 1836? Scratch that. Now we see that Joseph Smith participated in a blessing promising the same things in February of that same year. Really, this doesn’t change the general framework of Mormon healing as New Testament recapitulation. It does show that the invocation of Paul was much more part of the zeitgeist than previous evidence indicated.
Perhaps, like Lorenzo Snow’s biography, Winegar’s journal may have some evidence that he actually used material objects to heal. Add reading it to the list of things I need to do.
This post is to highlight the new JSPP website: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org. It is also a big thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make these documents publicly available. In the future we may look back on this moment as the Documents Spring.
- Benjamin E. Park, “‘Thou Wast Willing to Lay Down thy Life for they Brethren’: Zion’s Blessings in the Early Church,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 29 (2009): 27-37.